HC Deb 28 February 1951 vol 484 cc2114-262

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. Collindridge.]

4.38 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I beg to move, "That the debate be now adjourned."

There does not seem to be any Minister here and I do not think we can possibly allow the Bill to go forward in the absence of all the responsible Ministers. There is the Secretary of State, two Joint Under-Secretaries and two Law Officers—five Ministers in all; but none of them is present in the House when a Bill is being brought forward—and a Bill, let it be remembered, which has been considered in Committee upstairs so that this is the first time the House has had an opportunity of considering it. I do not think we should proceed with this business in the absence of all the responsible Ministers of the Crown.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

The Question I have to put is, "That the debate be now adjourned."

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I should like to oppose the Motion [Horn. MEMBERS: "You cannot."] I do not know whether hon Members opposite are suggesting that I am out of order in opposing a Motion that the debate should be adjourned. I am well aware of occasions when this kind of thing has happened. There are precedents in Parliamentary history of procedure when a Motion is before the House that the dis- cussion on Third Reading should be adjourned. I have no doubt that it is normal that there should be a Minister present on these occasions. I see that one of the Joint Under-Secretaries has just arrived, so it is only a matter of time before the Minister appears to deal with the Third Reading. I hope we shall allow the Third Reading to proceed in the normal way.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Surely the Minister or at any rate one Scottish hon. Member might speak on this matter. No Scottish Member of any kind has spoken from the opposite side of the House.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has already spoken once. The Question before the House is, "That the debate be now adjourned."

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

Could we not at least have an explanation from a competent Minister as to why this debate should not be adjourned? I am not at all satisfied to have only the views of an English, London Member on this point.

4.40 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

I have not the slightest idea why the debate should be adjourned.

Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)

Because there was no Minister here to move the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Fraser

There is one here now, and since I am here I have not the slightest idea why we should adjourn this matter. It seems to me that if the House wishes to debate the Third Reading of this Bill there is no reason why it should not do so. If hon. Members wish me to say a word or two about it, I am perfectly willing to do so. In' the circumstances I do not know what argument can be adduced in favour of adjournment. I may say that I feel very guilty that I was not in my place when this Business was reached. I was in the House 10 minutes ago, and I had the impression that the business then being taken would continue for some little time, and so I went out to get a cup of tea, which I managed to get, although I have not had time to consume it. I apologise to the House for not having been here.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.

4.41 p.m.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

Of course, I fully join with my hon. and right hon. Friends in accepting the full though somewhat belated apology which the Joint Under-Secretary of State has made for his late attendance. I hope that now that the hon. Gentleman has come to the Chamber, and as he has indicated that he would be willing to say a word or two about the Bill, that he will give a few words of explanation of this Measure. I do not rise with any intention of opposing the Third Reading, but, after all, this is the only opportunity which this House has had to discuss it. Since we have agreed to the change in our procedure regarding the passage of Scottish Measures on Second Reading and in Committee, this is the only chance that the whole House of Commons—English and Welsh Members as well as Scottish representatives —has of discussing a Measure such as this.

It may only be of local importance to Scotland; it does, however, raise an important point in domestic affairs for this country, as it seeks to prevent the extension—so far as legislation is capable of preventing such an extension—of noxious and offensive gases in the northern country. Considerable time was given to this inoffensive Measure in the Scottish Grand Committee when the Committee was considering the general principles of the Bill prior to Second Reading, and also when we came to the Committee stage. The Joint Under-Secretary of State, I think, will remember that he did not expect that the Committee stage of the Bill would be nearly as protracted as it was.

Now, as I say, I do not rise with any intention of opposing this Measure, but I think that it is due to the House of Commons as a whole, and especially, if I may say so without offence, because of the belated appearance of the hon. Gentleman, that we should have a word of explanation of the general principles of this Bill before it leaves us. I am well aware, of course, that on the Third Reading of any Bill one cannot in any way seek to object by way of proposing an Amendment to anything which is con- tained in it; we can only finally approve or condemn it. I, for one, am certainly prepared to approve it, but that does not preclude me or any other hon. Member from saying a word or two by way of caution as to the working of any one or all of the Clauses of the Bill.

I desire, of course, to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing the Bill forward. I think he sought to take credit to himself on Second Reading for having carried a step further legislation which this House agreed to some 45 or 50 years ago. I think that it was in 1906 when the first legislation was brought forward with regard to noxious or offensive gases. The hon. Gentleman certainly said so on the Second Reading, and I only say in passing, by way of illustration, that that Measure was carried through in 1906 by a Radical Government—I think I shall have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart), in saying that—but I am delighted to think that it was a Conservative Government in 1926 which carried—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not see any of this history in the Bill, as it presents itself to me on the Third Reading.

Mr. McKie

I had no intention of trespassing beyond the bounds of order. I was about to conclude by saying that it was 20 years later that a Conservative Government carried the legislation a step further, and I was about to offer my congratulations, on the Third Reading of this Bill, to the Joint Under-Secretary of State, as one of the Ministers for Scotland in a Socialist Government, on carrying the legislation another step.

If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to reply by giving a word or two of explanation of this Measure I would enter a caveat with regard to Clause 2, where there is considerable provision for entry by inspectors into works to see if the provisions of the Bill are being carried out with regard to the emission of offensive or noxious gases—to see that they are not being extended any further. I hope that there will be no unnecessary, fussy—I think that that is the best word to use—interference by these, no doubt, excellent gentlemen who will be employed by the Scottish Office to see that the provisions of this Clause 2 are being carried out. He will remember well that on the Committee stage my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), pressed him very hard on the matter, and if the hon. Gentleman is prepared now to say a word or two about how it is proposed to put into operation the working of that Clause I think he will satisfy the wishes of this House as a whole. With that, my only word of protest, I assure the Joint Under-Secretary of State that I shall be very glad to see the Bill read the Third time.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The Joint Under-Secretary of State indicated that he was willing to say a word or two, and I think that there are one or two things he should say. The hon. Gentleman was, of course, pressed during the proceedings—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has exhausted his right to speak. He moved that the debate be adjourned, and he has thereby—

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I spoke on the Motion for the Adjournment, but I have not spoken in the debate on this Question.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did, in fact, move, and I proposed the Question, that the debate on that Bill be adjourned. For that reason he has exhausted his rights.

4.48 p.m.

Mr. T. Fraser

I did not rise to speak on this Question, not because I had any desire to be discourteous to the House in the matter, but because I thought that the House would have been willing to allow the Third Reading without any speech by me. I had no desire to evade any responsibility; but I refrained from speaking merely because I assumed that this was one of those Bill to which the House quite regularly gives a Third Reading without any debate.

The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) has called our attention to the fact that we have not in this House had a discussion on this Bill, but he will recall that we adopted the new procedure to enable Scottish Members to discuss the general principles of the Bill in the Scottish Grand Committee; and the discussions we had there, followed by the Second Reading in this Chamber, really seem to me to have taken the place of the formal Second Reading debate which, in other circumstances, would have taken place in this House. No doubt, all Members of the House have read the Report of our proceedings.

This Bill is a very short one of three Clauses, the third one of which merely sets out the Title of the Bill. It is therefore, a Bill of only two Clauses in substance. The first enables the Secretary of State, after holding a proper inquiry, to make orders extending or amending the list of noxious or offensive gases mentioned in the 1906 Act, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It also applies to extending or amending the list of works mentioned in the First Schedule to the 1906 Act. As the hon. Gentleman has already explained, that Act was amended in 1926 for England and Wales and we are only now bringing Scotland into line with England and Wales.

Clause 2 gives the Secretary of State power to send inspectors into works that are not listed in the Schedule, but where he has reason to believe that there is emitted therefrom such gases as ought to be controlled by him under the powers given in this Act. We had a friendly and harmonious discussion on the general principle, and we made one or two small Amendments during the Committee stage. I therefore think that the House will not find it difficult to give the Bill its Third Reading.

4.51 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

It is not a bad thing that we should have had even this little formal prototype debate. It would be a pity if, under the new procedure for Scottish Bills, the 'House were to get into the way of thinking that because we have that new procedure every Third Reading should be taken formally. It would be a great pity if that view should find any support. There may well be occasions upon which we can agree without much discussion, but if we are to safeguard Scottish interests many Bills may demand a full Third Reading debate in this House, and what we have done today, even in a short and truncated way, is worth while.

4.52 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I detain the House for only two or three minutes, to point out that this is a matter about which, in the last Parliament, I was chasing the Lord President of the Council, who showed extreme reluctance to deal with this question which I knew was gravely affecting the health of the district. For that reason, I am glad that the Scottish Office are now doing something which is obviously of value to both agriculture and the general health of the district. What is much more important to my mind is that this Bill introduces rules which compel certain companies to follow good practices in looking after the health of those in their works—practices which have existed before in Norway and Canada, and in England.

This Bill has been conducted from the purely Scottish angle in exactly the right way. I am glad, as an English Member, that on this occasion we can support something which many of us would like to have seen done a long while ago, and which might have been done if the Lord President of the Council, the Secretary of State for Scotland and especially their Law Officers, had been more efficient in the last six years.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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